Foodie Tuesday: Swim for It

If left to my own devices to raise or, more difficult yet, forage and hunt for all of my food, I’d soon enough be a non-meatatarian. I haven’t the patience or the skill for any sort of animal husbandry, nor the remotest chance of outsmarting anything sentient in order to catch it. But despite my pitiful showing as a junior fisherman alongside Gramps in days of yore, I think I could pull myself together enough to learn how to fish and forage the sea enough to keep my love of seafoods at least occasionally treated. Good protein, too.
Photo: Salmon Champagne Evening

Sometimes I am happy enough to have a rather plain fried, roasted, baked, steamed, raw, or poached piece of fish. When it’s pristinely, spankingly fresh and sweet, fish should probably not be made too fancy. Why mask perfection? At most, a dash of fresh herbs or a little zip of some lovely masala ought to be plenty of interest to vary the day’s meals. Even I have been known to identify and safely pick and consume wild sorrel, which is an excellent companion to fish in modest amounts. And of course, there’s nothing friendlier with a piece of salmon than citrus or ginger root or plain black pepper, if the foraging can extend as far as a grocery store. One thing I do think well worth the [negligible] fuss if I’m preparing salmon with its skin is to sear it, lightly salted, in butter or a high smoke-point oil before I cover its pan to finish cooking it through on cooktop or in the oven, because crispy salmon skin is delicious and its crunch a wildly beautiful complement to the velvety tenderness of the flesh. Once my palate was introduced to this marvel, I wondered how I had managed to enjoy salmon so much, so often, without having known what I’d been missing. Salty, slightly fat, salmon-flavored, and crispy? How could I not love it!
Photo: See Food

Of course, there are innumerable other outstanding ways to enjoy and indulge in seafood, if one does happen to have access to plenty of other ingredients. Seafood fried rice is one very flexible, quick to fix, and reliably delectable way to enjoy such things. Salmon in bite sized pieces, for one seafood treat, goes quite well with the contrasting grains of rice, lovely with rich that’s been cooked in either broth or coconut water or milk and filled with a delicate confetti of diced celery, carrots, onions, bell peppers, or peas, whether shelled or in sugar snap or snow pea form. But as you can see in the accompanying photo, I enjoy, along with salmon or other kinds of fish, those admirable insect imitators the crustaceans. Hardly anything, sea-based or otherwise, is more enticing in fried rice than crab (naturally, I vote for Dungeness first, every time), lobster, langoustines, or shrimps of various sizes. I would guess that some tiny, tender clams might be more than acceptable in this sort of dish as well, but truthfully, I doubt I’ll ever get quite that far, as long as any of the usual suspects are available. Never say never.

Meanwhile, back at the fried rice, I am still an old Occidental renegade when I make it, cooking it much too slowly for a wok-master’s taste and throwing in whatever I have on hand and am in the mood to eat, from the aforementioned vegetable ingredients, crisply sautéed, to seasonings like Tamari or soy sauce, citrus juice, fresh or candied or pickled ginger or ginger syrup (or all four, as I am an unregenerate ginger fiend), honey, shallots, and/or chile pepper flakes. All of these cook in gently, over low heat, while I’m stirring in an egg to scramble into shreds, and then letting the rice slowly develop a good crust amid copious lashings of fat—coconut oil, avocado oil, ghee, whatever I have on hand. All of this, until I can’t quite wait any longer. Must keep that seafood delicate and fresh. Until I can devour it, anyway.

One Egg, Over Medium

Ah, the elegance of simplicity. There’s little I find more beautiful than very simple things, excellently performed, made, or executed. Even the commonest thing, in a rather average way, can be fabulous in its simplicity if it’s perfect in its common averageness. Odd, but true. Let me give you an example.

I love eggs. They are delicious to eat, and fairly easy to prepare in a wide number of lovely ways. They are pretty. Their extremely uncomplicated ovals come in a relatively narrow range of colors and textures by nature, each of them marvelous and precious in its own way. They make an outstanding subject for artworks, for this very reason.

As the sole or central subject of any number of artworks in any medium, or as the medium in itself by virtue of being decorated or carved or sculpted upon, an egg is delightfully fine. But even as a supporting player in a larger cast, the humble egg in its unfettered simplicity always pleases my mind as well as my eyes.

If it sneaks into some of my artworks where it really doesn’t have any particular purpose, can I really be blamed? I think not. You may try, but you might well be left with egg on your face. If you know what I mean.digital illustration

Foodie Tuesday: I have Made a Hash of Things, and I’m Not Sorry

photoThat old expression about making a hash of things implies wreckage and ruination, but there’s a different and much lovelier kind of a hash that results when one finely chops or shreds a bunch of tasty ingredients (leftover or not), mixes them together and cooks them. It’s generally easy to make, and a good way to expand small amounts of ingredients to feed a larger hunger, and when made with a reasonable amount of care and/or experience, it can be very tasty, too. The typical mix of protein (usually meat) and potatoes that serves as the base of a hash is worthy of enough admiration that the technique–I daren’t call it a recipe—has quite deservedly survived for ages.

Still, there’s no reason not to use the methodology with a little twist or two on occasion if mood and ingredient availability so move you. The most recent version appearing on my table lacked both meat and potatoes but still ended up with the texture and character of a fairly classic hash, to my mind. I seasoned the blend with salt, pepper, a little shredded Parmesan cheese and a dose of smoked paprika and then I mixed in an egg to hold the equal parts of cooked rice and creamed corn that I had on hand together a little more like those starchier potato shreds would be, and when at last I put in a fair amount of olive oil, it all fried up in the skillet to a nice crispy-outside cake with a moist interior, and broke up easily with a gentle poke of the fork when I’d loaded that utensil up with a nice creamy bite of dill-seasoned tuna salad. Some fried sage leaves made a nice topper. No potatoes? No meat? No problem.

Look What I’ve Done!

graphite drawingWhile I will readily admit to having laid an egg, and a prizewinner at that, many a time in my life, I have neither done so in physiological terms nor, as the bird in today’s illustration appears to have done, in the supernatural way that allows said egg to levitate spontaneously.

On the other hand (or wing), I have managed to score a few modest accomplishments of my own, which, while hardly supernatural, at least impressed the heck out of me. And I rarely, in these cases, fail to make the bragging announcement.

The most remarkable thing about all of this is not that I have ever accomplished anything at all (let alone worthy of note)–though this is indeed impressive enough–it’s that I may have once or twice done something moderately grand and not felt compelled to trumpet self-aggrandisement.

Or did I just cancel out that small virtue by saying so? It’s just so hard to be humble.digital illustration

Foodie Tuesday: Salmon Champagne Evening

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Shake it up a little even when you’re hungry for a favorite: this time I made my staple smoked salmon pasta in lemon cream sauce with a half-and-half combination of hot-smoked and cold cured salmon. It was a hit, and we demolished the dish in double time.

Salmon is calling me once again. Steamed, poached, roasted, smoked; cold, room temp or hot. I love it as a broiled filet and I love it as freshly made sushi. It is the perfect fat and tender foil for lemon cream sauce with pasta, the ideal topping for a chewy cream cheese-schmeared bagel, and the cedar planked heart of a gorgeous summer supper.

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Salmon, simply cooked in a covered stove-top pan with ginger juice and lime juice, makes a quick and tasty main dish for a simple meal. And can you tell I love dill with salmon? Must be my Norsk roots showing. Of course, I could also make a Champagne beurre blanc or a Champagne version of Hollandaise, and wouldn’t that be nice, too?

So I thought it was time to make some nice salmon cakes to cheer my salmon-loving heart and fill my seafood-hungry innards. What else is a landlocked mermaid to do?photo

Sweet Salmon Cakes

2 hand-sized boneless, skinless wild salmon filets

1 small tin of tiny, briny sweet shrimp (drained) [when minced, these combine with the potato flour and egg as great binders for the cakes]

Juice and zest of 1 small lemon

1 teaspoon of Tamari

1 teaspoon of vanilla

1 Tablespoon of sushi gari (pickled ginger)

1 Tablespoon of potato flour

1/4-1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper

1 egg

Combine all of these ingredients in a food processor and pulse them together until they’re as coarse or fine as you like for fish cakes. [In lieu of a food processor, you can of course hand mince the fish and shrimp and mix together lightly with the other ingredients.] Don’t overwork the blend. Form the mix quickly into 4 cakes and coat them generously with no-additive dehydrated ‘mashed’ potato flakes. Fry the cakes over medium-high heat in butter (use a nonstick pan) until golden brown. Turn off the burner before the cakes are fully cooked, and just let them finish cooking as they set up while the heat’s dissipating from the burner. These, too, would of course be swell with Hollandaise or beurre blanc, but worked nicely on this occasion with lemony avocado puree, and were happy companions with a cup of Southern style tomatoes, okra, corn and green beans, plus  butter-steamed carrots bathed in maple syrup.photo

Defeating Nightmares

graphite drawingNo matter how impressive and terrifying the monster, there’s always something that can defeat it. Most monsters have their own monsters, when it comes right down to it. Their tormentors may be superior powers, but in truth, it may well be the simplest and smallest, most innocuous detail that thwarts the fiercest monster.

It might even be me.

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Is it his own greed and hubris, or is it a clever prank I pulled that takes down the mighty monster? Not that it matters, as long as I win the day!

Kept at Bay

Greedy little nightmare,

You stole from me an hour

Of sleep that should have been repose

With twisted, dark and sour

Delirium and horror-shows

Of ghosts and ghouls and glee-

Filled monster tales and dragon-scales—

O! Set this captive free!

For if you deign to torture me

Incessant, sleepless grind,

I’ll out you in a rotten verse

And you will lose your mind.

Foodie Tuesday: More Sugary Bits

Sweets needn’t be hard to prepare. They’re so easy to eat, it’s only fair that they should also be easy to fix or you’ll undoubtedly end up feeling a little desperate between times. Why risk it?

Especially nice if the treats can require no baking or be super-simple to mix and prep before popping into the oven–like these two:photoChocolate Handy Candy

Combine an assortment of the following ingredients into a dense dough, roll into golf ball shapes or squeeze into similar sized blobs, and chill. Before serving, coat in powdered sugar or cocoa powder; mix in some ground spice if you like.

Melted chocolate (I like to use dark chocolate that I buy in bars)

Coconut oil and/or butter, melted

Pinch of salt (crunchy is usually my favorite)

Flavorings (try ginger with black pepper, mint and dried apple pieces, toasted coconut and rosewater, or toasted sesame seeds and almond bits and a pinch of cloves)

Chopped candied peel or crushed freeze-dried fruit

Crushed potato chips or pretzels or chopped nuts (toasted and salted or spiced/candied)

Once you’ve formed these, refrigerate them, and serve them cold. Easy to make and just as easy to like.

And not long ago I came across another ridiculously simple sweet fix. Nutella cookies. If you don’t already know what Nutella is, you need more help than just an easy recipe to make with the stuff. Possibly a term of Nutella Therapy hospitalization. Ooh, can I have that? I have, thankfully, found some pretty good no-name generic copycat versions of it, so if the real stuff isn’t available in an emergency I needn’t panic. But really, it’d be hard to go wrong with the classic combination of chocolate and hazelnuts.

The recipe in question is so uncomplicated as to be hard to classify as a recipe at all, but I proved it does require a tad of technical specificity, so it’s not quite the throw-and-go ease of the first item here. Still, easy. And oh so sweet. And once again, tweak-worthy. The general gist of this combination is popular, if not prevalent, online, to the degree that it’d be a serious magic trick to track down the original author. If any of you know who developed this I’d be delighted to know!photoImpossibly Possible Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies

1 cup flour (I used gluten-free flour mix) + 1 cup Nutella (or substitute) + 1 egg = dough. Makes a dense dough that’s not hard to mix quickly with your bare hands. Form the dough into a log (about 2″ or 5 cm in diameter) with flattened ends and slice it into 24 pieces. Arrange on a cookie sheet and bake in a preheated oven at 350°F (177ºC) for approximately 6 minutes. My usual issue of owning an overactive oven made my first attempt bake too quickly, scorching them slightly.

That, however, gave me the excuse to play with spice and start thinking of a number of other ways I might happily vary the treat. Version 2 was also easy; all I did was make the cookies as prescribed (while lowering the oven temp significantly, thankyouverymuch) and as I placed the slices on the baking sheet, I sprinkled over them a mixture of copper-colored edible glitter for visual interest and sweet-hot curry powder for additional flavor. Went over nicely with guests, and I found it quite enjoyable.photoFor future versions, I’m thinking of a number of possible enhancements to this delightfully easy cookie dream. I know that it’s also possible to substitute peanut butter and sugar for the Nutella and flour, and I assume one could just as easily use other nut butters. But there are a zillion ways I might play with the existing combination too. Roll the log of dough in finely chopped toasted hazelnuts before slicing into cookies. Add a splash of rum or rum flavoring. Add the finely grated zest of a large orange or a couple of small mandarins; add minced candied peel or ginger to the zested dough. Ice the cookies with a glaze made of pure cherry juice and powdered sugar. Skip the flour and egg and stick the big spoon loaded with Nutella directly in your mouth. Okay, that last one’s not exactly a recipe either, unless you want to call it a recipe for disastrous health, but it’s still probably worth a try. Because it’s sweet, and it’s simple. And when I have a crazy hankering for a bit of dessert in a big hurry, that’s a very fine thing.

Kindred Spirits

line drawingEven when I meet them in places of common interest I am surprised to encounter like-minded creatures. I suppose that’s part of the human psyche, to imagine ourselves so individual as to be unique in all ways. What we really are is unique combinations of characteristics, so we might be better explained as having innumerable subsets in common with others, but not all with anyone else.

And that makes for practically infinite possible serendipitous discoveries of the shared traits, ideas, bits of history, likes, dislikes and curiosities. The potential for finding ways in which we are like others is probably greater, when it comes right down to it, than for finding differences.

Of course, having desires in common means that, like siblings, we still find our shared interests a reason–if not an excuse–to compete with each other, even to fight. We might get a bit too busy comparing ourselves with each other because of our commonalities as well, and whether we think ourselves superior or inferior the imbalance in the equation can lend itself to conflict. We are contentious beings, we humans.

But all told, the advantageous delights of finding others with whom we share views and loves and hopes and pleasures far outweigh the complications. Whether we are introverts or extroverts, worldly or otherworldly, there is great happiness to be found on discovering kindred spirits. It is possible to live our own fairytales when we find the right characters with whom to share them.digital artwork

Foodie Tuesday: From GM to GF without Prejudice

photoYou know I’m not a vegetarian, let alone a vegan, nor do I on a regular basis obey or enforce any dietary edicts in my kitchen regarding the consumption of meats, fish, dairy, eggs, or practically anything else in the edible universe. But since I do respect the lives, health and right to believe what they believe about foods that other people have–even if the belief is patently ridiculous, like one that would, say, eat anything but my cooking (okay, there may be fine reasons for that one, too, come to think of it)–well, it means that I do think about what I eat. Surprising though that may be to anyone who has seen me hunched over my food like a half-starved grizzly just because I like it so much. Aside from the notion that I don’t mind being associated with a creature bearing (please bear with me) the wonderfully mellifluous and magical name of Ursus arctos horribilis, I can’t really make that claim. My body does express its likes and dislikes more clearly as I age.

This means that despite my blissful youth of eating every triple-scoop of ice cream that appeared before my glistening eyes without experiencing a noticeable twinge on my elastic waistband, I now find myself questioning whether a single scoop ‘every so often’ might threaten me with an equal and opposite seismic event should I waver too close to any fragile chairs or ice-covered ponds. That a stick of butter should probably no longer be considered an after-school snack. (Well, I thought about it, I’m sure.) Maybe even that the dreaded concept of Portion Control might in fact be a useful, if not lifesaving, one, particularly when applied to foods with calorie counts exceeding the sum total of my age, my IQ, plus my life savings in number. I’ll leave you to contemplate which of these numbers alone is the highest or lowest. And don’t tell me your conclusions, thank you.

Meanwhile, back in my kitchen, I stand contemplating yet another set of conundrums. I’m not convinced that a dramatic decrease in my intake of genetically modified foods is going to wildly affect my remaining lifespan or health, unless foods marked GM are in fact made by General Motors as engine lubricants and exhaust system cleaners. I’ll leave it to the more medically fragile and environmentally astute to deal with those concerns if I must. But I certainly think that if I have a reasonable choice between things grown with or without gene alteration and chemical additives and other forms of production hocus-pocus, I’ll opt for the less adulterated versions. And my gut tells me (this, more literally than might be delicate for full discussion here; suffice to say that I’m talking about both digestion and the expansion of my middle acreage) that wheat is not entirely my friend anymore, if it ever was. This is expressed primarily in a recognition that most of the wheat-based eating I have most loved over the years is also full of (mostly processed) sugar and rather high in not-so-nutritious calories and is therefore wonderfully addictive to me. I just plain eat more of what’s less good for me because it creates further cravings.

Well, let’s get to the cheerier part of this equation, at long last. Dessert again, if you will.photo

I’m gradually working to go gluten-free, or approach it more closely than I ever have before anyway, to see what cutting down on wheat or just plain cutting it out of the diet might do to simplify this one aspect of my food-related health and happiness. I’m learning to work with a number of ingredients that fill most wheat gaps in my taste, and I’m finding new stuff to like. Or is that bad? New foods to like, when I’m so ancient that I can’t just eat willy-nilly and know that there will be no consequences?photo

Here’s a simple little dinner that arose out of the experiment just recently. Small, tender (erm, check out the torn one, damaged by soft pieces of cheese) crepes made of egg, water, a touch of vanilla and a pinch of salt, folded over an uncomplicated filling of cubed roasted chicken warmed with sautéed celery and red capiscum and a whole lot of sliced brown mushrooms, all seasoned lightly with the bacon fat and butter in which they were mingled, a splash of broth, a freckling of black pepper, and a dash of Worcestershire. My beloved dinner companion was not desirous of anything further in his, so mine was the only crepe that had the queso fresco added. I think it works pretty decently either way.photo

For another easy little breath of fresh air besides merely leaving the little bit of flour out of the crepe mix, I varied our frequent-flying slaw addendum to try out a slightly different salad. Thinly sliced celery, shredded carrots and sliced almonds. A spoonful of ginger preserves, the juice of half a lime, and a couple of tablespoons of macadamia nut oil. Crunchy and clean and fresh, and a strong contrast to the soft textures and savory warmth of the crepes.photo

I’m not sure of it, but I think perhaps the meal was satisfying enough that it removed one iota of my natural craving for an actual dessert to follow it immediately. One iota, mind you. I can still envy those who can eat all the floury goodies they want without serious guilt or consequence. But there will be dessert. Many and many a time to come. It’s just that the desserts will be smaller than a triple scoop of yummy scrummy ice cream. And contain lots less wheat, I’m guessing. We’ll just see how all of this goes.photo

He Cracked a Wicked Little Smile . . .

 

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. . . as he was hatching his plots . . .

Quack Quack, Etc.

There’s nothing adverse

That I throw in the sauce

As I start to rehearse

The demise of the Boss

But as I descend

To the end of the day

It’s more tough to pretend

To be lightsome and gay

When I feel in my marrow

The building of rages

Brought on by the narrow-

Ness by which he gauges

My quest for perfection

In service to him

Whose extreme predilection

For being quite grim

As you guess is a needle

To nag and annoy

Like the high nasal wheedle

Of a self-centered boy

Until something explodes

In the back of my brain

At some one of his goads

And I go quite insane

So I must kill him gladly

By end of the day

And go off quacking madly

As I’m carted away